Sliding on by.

This grape vine tendril has grown right across my front door step. This is vegetable testimony to how few people have stepped across the threshold and how rarely I have been out this way.

When the vine started budding it was early spring and we sat drinking tea in the sunshine, enjoying the lockdown and the luxury of working from home and watching the garden come to life for once. The bat came back to roost in the eves as summer started and the grapes began to set.

Now it is autumn : Being home is still a pleasure and the garden is still amazing but venturing beyond the garden still seems foolish . Covid has not gone away and so the grapes have fattened unadmired by guests and visitors.

I wish there was a reason to trim the wayward frond , I wish the vine shoot was in anybody’s way: but it isnt, so it curls indolently over the door mat.

I wonder if the door will be completely overgrown by the time a vaccine liberates us all back into normal life, or if I will have simply learnt to make my own wine and there will be no reason to ever go out again!

Second spring.

In the autumn the swing of light is the same as in the spring,

and in the forest dog violets bloom again.

In my garden the Mock Orange puts out a few perfumed flowers and the rain has coaxed another push of sunshine yellow mulleins from the almost ossified Summer stem.

The Earth is turning, light is fading from this season,

but it can feel the same as the light growing in the spring,

If you want it to,

If you try hard enough

But there are swallows massing on the wires

Socially distancing swallows, but swallows none the less,

And all my wishing will not keep them a moment longer

Stretching out their improbable Pterodactyl wings to preen the summer dust away

Before swinging back on the turning world that never stops,

However much we want it to.

Swallow.

I took the curtains down
They have hung unwashed against the glass for too long.
The window was bigger,
filled from frame to frame with sunshine and a perfect blue sky
And then the sky erupted:
Swallows and martins exploded,
flung exuberance , flight and life,
Careering, tumbling , screaming,
A great cloud of birds in all of the sky giving depth to the flat perfection of the blue day : calling calling calling.
I could not hear them behind the glass but I know the sound
The screaming chattering essence of flight, of movement , of freedom –
Oh swallow, swallow!

Honesty .

The Jasmine has deigned to flower this summer.
Last year there were leaves and no flowers : this year the perfume of the white flowers is intoxicating. It is scrambling up the drainpipe next to where the honesty has flowered  and while I peeled off the dull brown cases of the honesty seed heads, I am bathed in the heady perfume of the flowers.
 Peeling the skins from the honesty seedheads is a peaceful task that never ceases to give me pleasure.
The plants have stayed green all winter, clinging on between the paving stones and often dusted in snow . With the first stirrings of spring , their dark green intensifies and strong spikes of little purple flowers race up in the first hint of warmth.  The early honey bees and the long tongued bee flies pollinate them hungrily and their tiny feasting is often the first sound of insect life returning to a cold garden.
When the flowers are pollinated the flat oval seed head start to form. As the spring races into summer the ovals grow and the green cases starts to turn brown.
By the end of July the real heat of summer descends upon the garden and we retreat in to the shade. The last honesty leaves are long shrivelled and gone and the old plants look dry and ugly. But the seeds continue to ripen between the dark papery cases, while we lie in hammocks and the cats sleep the heat away under the hedge.
When the cases are totally dry and the honesty looks at its very worst , I peel back the first case.
Between the brown pages of the cases is a sheet of silver, perfectly shell luminescent with two flat brown seeds still briefly attached until they fall to the ground leaving  the central portion white and bright , clean and lovely.
My fingers are greedy to peel away the cases and to real the wonderful silver moon of the inside. Such a satisfying transformation of dark, dullness into white light! I rub away all the cases and reveal the beauty inside that has been slowly forming all year.

My mother taught me to peel back the cases when I was little in our garden near Liverpool. I was enchanted then and am enchanted still. I want the honesty to grow everywhere in the garden, but it will only flourish in the cracks between the paving stones that it finds for its self.

It will not grow where I plant it , it will only grow where the wind and the broom push the seeds and the warmth from the wall is enough to sustain it through a cold winter.
My ugly duckling plant has a mind of its own and will find the perfect spot to grow and twist all my metaphors into a slice of moonlight of its own as the thunder storm washes the last seeds into their perfect spot for next spring.
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A solid home…

 

While looking for shade on a sunny day, my eye was caught by a strange clay pot opening on the underside of the kitchen window. It wasnt there before. Made of perfect solid clay with a delicate circular mouth, the colour exactly the same as the painted wall .

I waited. Nothing happened. It was hot and very Adlestrop.

The next day the pot has changed shape some how and then there was a huge, elegantly waisted wasp at the mouth of the pot. The wasp carried a ball of mud and as I watched it carefully rolled it into the opening and sealed up the whole.

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The wasp returned with damp clay and delicately plastered, layer, by thin layer of mud over the pot until eventually the pot had been subsumed into an unnoticeable bump innocuous under the window ledge.

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A guide book helped me identify the workman as a potter wasp Delta unguiculatum……..”…

The pot is home for its single egg which is suspended from a thread inside the pot. The wasp provisions its young with a caterpillar, which the adult has paralysed with poison. The caterpillar is fed into the mouth of the pot to stay fresh until the egg hatches and the the grub falls from its thread onto the caterpillar, which it then devours. When the grub reaches maturity, the new wasp breaks out of its pottery nursery and feeds on nectar from flowers outside.

The shape of the nest has been said to inspire humans to make their first clay pots.

We have used pots to store grain and seeds for millennia. The wasp worked it out first and used them to store food for its young and to house them as they grew.

It may seem as if nothing is happening on a hot day, but all of life and human history is carefully building, mud mouthful by mud mouthful under the kitchen window.

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A Delicate home.

I was deadheading purple toadflax flowers to encourage them to keep flowering all summer. Their long thin, needle like flowers spike up through the ripening garden for months and I was keen to stop them setting seed too soon. As I carried back some snapped seed stems , I noticed a bracelet of purple petals that was definitely not a flower.

On closer inspection I realised that it was a delicate dome of spiders web and fallen petals fused to the stem. On turning over the stem, I saw a very small white and black spider hiding in the middle of the dome. The spider was waiting under its improbable sombrero of petals for some unsuspecting ant or ladybird to devour .The camouflage  of petals was the soft home of a killer with a delicate and dainty sense of home decor!

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Swamped!

This time of year I can feel a bit like my duck who is being slowly engulfed by an ants’ nest . They found a dry spot under her metal belly and have multiplied until her eyes will soon be filled with earth and perfect ant eggs.

No, I haven’t finally lost it!

There is just such a wonderful profusion of fruit to pick and there is no time to do it. The sun is either so roastingly hot that picking boils the brains, or the heavens have opened and I am in danger of a biblical thunder bolt and electrocution over the raspberries.

It is a pleasant problem to have, but I hate waste and all those red currents, black currants, gooseberries, cherries and raspberries won’t pick themselves, so I put down the ipad and rush back out to the garden.

I might even find time to rescue the duck!

 

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Stoning Cherries.

 Stoning cherries.
10 years ago we planted a cherry tree
Thin stick on an unpromising slope
For the blossom, for the fruit, if it ever came.
Each year the stick thickened
The trunk glossy and banded with fine bracelets of silver,
Yielding just a few small cherries.
This year it is finally heavy with fruit
Little globes, still sour , that explode in the mouth.
I stand by the sink, watch the flies on the pane
And push the stones out of each fruit.
The juice runs through my fingers,
The punctured flesh sticks under my  thumb nail.
My hands are clumsy,
but they slowly find the stone
in every fruit,
The stones are discarded in the sticky sink and,
Left behind  is a heaped bowl of broken cherry flesh,
jewel red and succulent.
Worth the wait.
Cathy Cooper 2020
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Before the rain.

Before the rain the peonies  were perfect.

Before the deluge the roses were pristine,

The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,

But after the storm, in the snail slimed, dripping quiet,

The perfume was divine.

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Complicated beauty.

3656AFC1-5DD2-4761-8AD5-6E417FE3B910Capturing complex beauty is so difficult and I have the greatest  respect for those who take  wonderful photos with such apparent ease.

My garden is crammed with columbines at this time of year all of which have come from seeds collected in the woods locally. They cross and cross with one another and the variety they produce is mesmeric. Every May I try to capture them, but I am never satisfied by the result, as they hide in their five petaled whorls and I cannot begin to show the diversity of their colour and petals.

Some are pale, almost white and they stand out in the dawn light. Others are baby pink and innocent; next are the deep, sophisticated , rose-red flowers. Seemingly unconnected in gradation are the purple columbines: a rare few seem actually blue and are the smallest and most shyly flowered; then there are the work -a -day mid purples with the longest spurs;  followed by purples rich enough for an emperor’s robe and finally, the most exotic of all: the midnight purples, so dark that they seem to absorb the very sun light around them .

Some flowers have just a single whorl of five petals: each petal contains a nectary to encourage the bees to visit and to pollenate .  The nectaries are curled over and this has given the flowers their name, as they look like five doves or columbs facing one another in a delicate ring. They have also given columbines the folk names of “ladies in bonnets”and “old ladies” from when women kept warm and modest in complicated lace caps.

Bumbles bees cannot be bothered extending their long tongues into the spurs and they simply bite into the neck of the ”dove” and steal the nectar provided by the flower. Some plants are not satisfied  with just one ring of petal doves and produce natural “sports” of flowers which are crammed with petals, so they look like pom-poms or little floribunda roses.

This variety is absolutely glorious.

I understand Gregor Mendel started our understanding of genetics by studying the way peas crossed with one another . I am glad he studied  such a visually dull flower, as I think he would never have gained such important insight, if he had studied columbines – their beauty is just too distracting!

 

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The bee-loud glade.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
n/a
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats

 

It rained heavily here after weeks and weeks of  bright sunshine and the bees were driven in under the shelter of the dripping patio. Luckily there were enough tangled wall flowers half in the  rain and half under the cover to provide them with nectar and pollen away from the falling rain. Listening to the bees I thought of Yeats lovely line of poetry and of all the wonderful sounds of the “deep heart’s core”.

 

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May Day in lockdown.

The leaves have come dark and green, green, green filling in the gap where the wind blew.

The longed for rain fills the flowers and bends the petals down to the grass.

A chaffinch sings the single note of its rain song  green, green, green, time, time, time rolls in the cool, wet garden.

Beyond is the daily Sunday quiet and the leaves fill in each gap while the air lies still and heavy.

 

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Stand and stare.

Leisure                       by William Henry Davies

 

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

 

Well, it seems we finally have time to stand and stare, as the world has stopped in an unimaginable way . This favourite poem has come into its own, but I am painfully aware that what we have to stare at during lockdown is not the same for everyone.

I have a little garden and orchards to walk in, but writing glowing descriptions of the birds and butterflies that I can see seems unconscionably smug when most people are stuck in flats with only concrete and asphalt to admire .

Beaches and woodland paths are closed. Parks are padlocked and in Japan they have had to cut the heads off the roses, to stop people going out to admire them and spreading the virus .  People are worried sick about not being able to earn money to feed their families and the leisure of not working does not feel like a holiday for long.

I understand why it has to be this way and if staring is all that I can do to help get the virus under control then it is no hardship, but I still feel profoundly guilty that not everyone can get out to enjoy this wonderful spring and “ turn at Beauty’s glance”.

I hope that everyone, wherever  they are, can find something beautiful to look at and can and stand and stare for a few minutes and forget their worries this afternoon.

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The moths are back!

I’ve missed the moths. They don’t like very cold nights and they dont like full moons, but finally the conditions are right and the wonderful and wooly creatures of the night are back .

I’ve been putting my moth trap on for a fair few weeks previously,  but the visitors have been few: lots of faithful hebrew characters, a few powdered quakers, the odd dotted chestnut and not much more. Now the moon is waning and the nights have turned warm and opening the trap this morning was full of seasonal delights.

176CA9F6-AB4F-4B16-81CD-1EFE80096B8BFirst the lobster moth with its pearly pink coat and odd paper dart extra flaps which is named for the strange caterpillar rather than the adult.

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Then the pale tussock with its wonderfully furry claspers lying out in tactile supplication .

Then the brindled beauty, garden carpet, an engrailed and finally the lovely Swallow Prominent that crept into my battered panama hat and spent the day there sheltering out of the sun. Her name comes  from the ridge on her back, but her French name is Porcelain, which must be inspired by the lovely patterning on her wings.

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I need something beautiful and absorbing at the moment. In my boredom I had started a jigsaw of an owl, which was so disturbing we had to break it up and put it back in the box.

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Thank goodness for the moths!

 

 

My cat is a drug dealer.

My cat has a drug den and today I finally destroyed it.

For years the roots of white valerian plants have attracted our cats to rub the soil and to actually eat the earth around the plant. This has made them feisty, fierce and frankly stoned, which I have put up with and found vaguely amusing . However the habit has spread. The valerian patch is now frequented by all the neighbourhood cats, who come to our garden to get high too. This causes fights and blood has been drawn on many occasions.

We first dug out the big plant and left a few muddy bits of root on the back door step. By dawn the roots were mysteriously all gone and the cats were furtive and jumpy.

We covered the patch were it had grown in wood ash. Our cats came in dirty and grey. We covered the patch in a sheet of plastic. The other cats dug along the edge and left the soil polished with their ecstatic rubbing on the earth where the plant used to grow.

So today I got dirty and dug up every tiny shoot and leaf. The drugs plants are in the photo and it is hard to imagine that they could exert  such a hypnotic pull on every feline for 10 kilometres, but it is true.

This photo shows Pixie rubbing round the shoes I wore to break up the joint. She is relaxed now. Wait until she realises the truth, when she goes to get her fix first thing tomorrow morning!

Cat high.

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Black bird singing….

I love the sound of blackbirds.

For me they call the day into being and they settle it to rest at night. Their song  is the first thing I hear and blackbird’s rich burbling waterfall of notes is strong enough to be heard through sleepy double glazed bedroom windows and irresistible enough to draw me out into every falling garden dusk.

Each bird has its own sound kingdom ruled from a roof top or tall tree and it proclaims its ownership not in battle or borders, but by pouring the rich cream of its delicious notes over everything that can hear it.

In my garden the blackbird announces the start of the day from the tallest birch tree. Each phrase of its wonderfully complex and satisfying song so round and light they seem to hang on the thin birch twigs like jewels .

At dusk the notes are more defined and the bird chuckles them out like comfortable gossip about the day gone by.

It is always the very last bird to stop singing and the very last to roost: afraid to miss out on anything .

In high summer its final notes are often  the prelude to the appearance of the bats and their silhouettes against the gathering dark are sometimes merged as silence finally falls.

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In the lion’s teeth.

It’s snowing here, but soon the sun will be out again and the dandelions will be in flower again – such is the fickle nature of spring. Faffing about flowers when the virus has us all enthralled seems absurd, but we must stay sane and nature turns unperturbed by our concerns.

Those of us fortunate enough to have lawns are watching them grow and as the world beyond the garden seems increasingly unsafe, we attempt to impose order on our own small patch. I think the first blog I ever wrote four years ago was a plea not to mow the lawn in the spring time and here I am again with the same plea for peaceful inaction!

Dandelions are beautiful.

Their huge golden flowers are the first food for so many bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. If you are home instead of the office, then lie on the grass and watch a bee burying itself in the profusion of pollen that dandelions offer up. Watch the bee revel in the yellow gold, its whole body dusted in it and the pollen sacs on each back leg bulging with the riches it will take back to the hive.

Then put away the mower for a few weeks and let the dandelions be.

The English name for them is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” – lion’s teeth and they are “ lowen Zahn” – lion’s teeth in German too. Both names come from the shape of the seed, not the flower. The common French name is “pissenlit “ which literally means piss the bed, which is the diuretic result of eating too many of the delicious leaves!

I am eating a lot of dandelion leaves at the moment. I am eating them Greek style which is  boiled or steamed for a few minutes and then dressed in olive oil and salt. You will be relieved to know they have not lived up to their French name so far!

So enjoy the spring flowers on your lawn: feed the bees: eat free greens and stay healthy!

 

 

You cannot confine the spring!

Spring knows nothing of fear.

The lane behind our house is awash with foaming white blackthorn blossom. The bushes are like waves breaking static white tops against the bluest sky – a Japanese woodcut of mountainous water frozen into the spray of spring blossom .

The cherry trees are just starting to flower, balancing sunshine and the forecast of snow in their unfurling buds.

On the kitchen window sill the first seedings are germinating for the vegetable garden. I normally get my seeds in the supermarket over the border in Switzerland, as their varieties do well here; but in the scramble to stock up on food, they were forgotten and I am keeping well out of the shops now.

Luckily I have managed to order seeds online and the second lot arrived yesterday, to my great delight! Some postal staff will not deliver in the Haut Rhin, as the infection rate here is so high and the prospect of an empty vegetable plot for the whole year was very dispiriting. However,  wonderful Spring Seeds have sent a good fist full of seeds to start things going. I have flat leafed parsley and chilli beginning to grow and their first leaves give great good cheer!

The commercial growers of  fruit and veg are asking the French hairdressers and waiters and all the others who have been sent home,  to help pick the spring produce which is growing right now in the greenhouses and fields. Most of the workers who normally pick the vegetables are not ill, they are migrants and they cannot enter the country as the borders are all closed and without their work the food will rot.

The world is very interconnected now. The butterfly wing flap of a closed border is felt in unpicked field. An open postal service allows some leaves to unfurl on a window sill hundreds of miles away and spring progresses one leaf at a time.

 

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Sunlight on the shanty shed.

It has been cold here after a week of such sunny spring weather that made the fear of the virus seem very silly and melodramatic. Everything has been growing and blooming and the birds have been tumultuous, everything must be OK, mustn’t it?

But the news from Italy has been so bad, so many people dead and the hospitals here overflowing with people who need respirators that are already being used by the critically ill.

Replacing the ancient shanty shed has been put on hold, as has so much of life and the tattered roof is now flapping in a cold wind.

But the roof is just keeping out most of the rain and when the sun flashed out for a minute, it lit up the white frothed blossom of the blackthorn bush safely sheltering behind the shed.

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